Tag Archives: R.S. Thomas

Farm Wife


Hers is the clean apron, good for fire
Or lamp to embroider, as we talk slowly
In the long kitchen, while the white dough
Turns to pastry in the great oven,
Sweetly and surely as hay making
In a June meadow; hers are the hands,
Humble with milking, but still now
In her wide lap as though they heard
A quiet music, hers being the voice
That coaxes time back to the shadows
In the room’s corners. O, hers is all
this strong body, the safe island
Where men may come, sons and lovers,
Daring the cold seas of her eyes.

-R.S. Thomas

The Absence

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 5:3

I liked the first poem I read by R.S. Thomas so well that I borrowed a collection of his poems from the library. It had some water damage already so I don’t worry about leaving it in the bathroom or reading it at the breakfast table, and I’ve been perusing it for a few weeks.

One doesn’t have to explore this book for very long to find that Thomas’s poetry is full of the feeling of coldness between us and God. Themes of harsh landscape and winter reappear, with lots of stone, stone, stone. My husband has been watching a TV detective series set in Wales and he commented that he would not want to live there, it looks so bleak. Maybe Thomas’s perspective is touched by the geography of his homeland.

This poem below is an example of this tone, though it’s not as painful as some of his verse that describes the alienation that is so common to the human experience. The last line relieves me with its hopeful turn and reminds me of what I’ve heard elsewhere: It’s only when we are truly empty of anything to offer God, and present ourselves humbly before Him, that He can speak to us, with His fullness that is silence, His presence that is His Word.


It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resource have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

— R.S. Thomas

wales stones
Bryn Cader Faner cairn in Wales

Poetry for Supper

The metaphor of windows in this poem by R.S. Thomas I find to be brilliant. I know I have a lot of nerve writing about poetry, because I am fairly ignorant, and do not show myself to be a dedicated or persevering student of the art. I also don’t write it, though I wish I did, because I appreciate the economy of words and the respect for the language that a good poem demonstrates.

That is, when it serves as a window, a possible purpose of a poem that one of the “old poets” in Thomas’s poem mentions. From my limited experience, it seems that many poem-windows are only good for being in a window museum. Someone puts a variable amount of work and skill into a poem, and many times all they end up with is an artsy window frame that is indeed unique and an expression of the hopeful poet’s individuality, but has nothing to do with light. It may be interesting, it may have been fulfilling for the artist, but it completely fails as something useful to anyone else; it has no “beauty of function.”

Easy for me to say, who might be described by the last line of this poem, “glib with prose.” I do find it challenging to talk about poetry, but talking is always easier than writing it.


‘Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.’

‘Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem’s making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life’s iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you’d build
Your verse a ladder.’

‘You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.’

‘Sunlight’s a thing that needs a window
Before it enter a dark room.
Windows don’t happen.’

So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.

— R.S. Thomas

r.s. thomas_photo_large

The air crumbled and broke on me.

The Moor

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

–R.S. Thomas